UK’s Starmer to Netanyahu: There is ‘urgent need’ for Gaza ceasefire

New British premier also urges return of all hostages, more aid for Gazans; tells Israeli PM he hopes to deepen ‘close relationship’ between countries after landslide win last week

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Britain's incoming Prime Minister Keir Starmer and leader of the Labour Party, and his wife Victoria pose on the steps of 10 Downing Street in London on July 5, 2024 (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)
Britain's incoming Prime Minister Keir Starmer and leader of the Labour Party, and his wife Victoria pose on the steps of 10 Downing Street in London on July 5, 2024 (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

Keir Starmer, the United Kingdom’s newly elected prime minister, told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Sunday morning call that he looks forward to “further deepening the close relationship between the two countries,” according to the British readout.

Starmer, the Labour party leader, stressed the “clear and urgent need for a ceasefire” in Gaza, as well as a return of the hostages held by Hamas and an increase in humanitarian aid reaching Gazans.

Starmer, who led a purge of the party beset by antisemitism under former leader Jeremy Corbyn, is not expected to significantly change the UK’s stance on Israel and its war with the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

After months of stalemate, there has been significant movement around a hostage deal in recent days. Hamas gave initial approval for a US-backed proposal for a phased truce and hostage exchange deal in Gaza, dropping a key demand that Israel give an upfront commitment for a complete end to the war, according to Hamas and Egyptian officials.

A four-way meeting between Mossad chief David Barnea, CIA director William Burns, Egyptian intelligence head Abbas Kamel and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani will be held in Doha on Wednesday, a source with knowledge of the details told Kan news on Sunday.

Barnea was in Doha over the weekend for initial talks on restarting intensive negotiations over the potential hostage-ceasefire deal with Hamas.

File – CIA chief William Burns, Egyptian intel chief Abbas Kamel, Mossad chief David Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. (Collage/AP/AFP)

Netanyahu’s office did not comment on the Sunday call.

Speaking to Netanyahu, the British premier said it was important “to ensure the long-term conditions for a two-state solution were in place, including ensuring the Palestinian Authority had the financial means to operate effectively.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich last month agreed to extend indemnity to Israeli banks working with Palestinian ones in the West Bank for an additional four months, and agreed to partially release three months’ worth of tax revenues that Israel collects on the PA’s behalf.

The pair of concessions by Smotrich were made in exchange for the security cabinet approving a series of sanctions against the PA over its support for efforts against Israel in the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, along with decisions by three European countries to recognize Palestinian statehood.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich attend a vote on the state budget at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, March 13, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The two leaders also discussed on Sunday “regional security in the Middle East.”

According to 10 Downing Street, Starmer said he is committed “to continuing the UK and Israel’s vital cooperation to deter malign threats.”

Starmer called the ongoing fighting between Israel and Hezbollah along the Lebanon border “very concerning,” and said it is crucial that all parties act with caution.

On Sunday morning, the Hezbollah terror group launched a barrage of some 20 rockets from Lebanon at the Lower Galilee in northern Israel, seriously wounding an Israeli civilian.

In a separate attack hours later, the terror group launched another 20 rockets at the Mount Meron area in northern Israel.

Fires and smoke rise at houses in the northern Israeli border town of Metula, hit by Hezbollah shelling, as seen from the Lebanese town of Marjayoun, Lebanon, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

In a another attack on Sunday, three people, including an IDF soldier and an American civilain, were wounded by anti-tank guided missiles fired against an army post near the northern community of Zar’it.

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 16 IDF soldiers and reservists.

Hezbollah has named 361 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 65 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

Israel has warned that it can no longer tolerate Hezbollah’s presence along its border, with tens of thousands of Israelis displaced from their homes in the north due to the rocket and drone attacks, and has warned that, should a diplomatic solution not be reached, it will turn to military action to push Hezbollah northward.

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released for publication on July 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

While the political leadership has not yet made a decision on launching an offensive in Lebanon and turning the Gaza Strip into the secondary front, the IDF has said it continues to target Hezbollah commanders who were behind attacks on Israel.

On Friday, Israel’s leadership, and politicians associated with the center-left, congratulated Starmer for his landslide victory in the UK parliamentary elections.

President Isaac Herzog, a former chairman of the Israeli Labor Party, wrote on X, “As [Starmer] prepares to enter Downing Street as prime minister, I look forward to working together with him and his new government to bring our hostages home, to build a better future for the region, and to deepen the close friendship between Israel and the United Kingdom.”

UK Labour Friends of Israel chairman Steve McCabe (L) gives a book signed by party leader Keir Starmer to President Isaac Herzog, February 6, 2023. (Labour Friends of Israel)

Netanyahu also took to X to “extend my warm congratulations to Keir Starmer Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.”

“I am confident that we will continue working together to strengthen the historic friendship between the UK and Israel and to advance the twin goals of security and peace,” wrote Netanyahu.

“I also express my gratitude to [outgoing UK Prime Minister] Rishi Sunak for his friendship and support over the years,” he added

Current Israeli Labor Party leader Yair Golan congratulated Starmer, writing on X, “I look forward to working together with our sister party to bring our hostages home and for security, peace and stability here and across the region.”

Britain’s Labour Party swept to power Friday after more than a decade in opposition, as a jaded electorate handed the party a landslide victory — but also a mammoth task of reinvigorating a stagnant economy and dispirited nation.

Starmer became prime minister later in the day, leading his party back to government less than five years after it suffered its worst defeat in almost a century.

Starmer took control of Labour in 2020, ousting far-left leader Corbyn. Starmer pushed the party toward the political center and worked to uproot antisemitism that rampaged in Labour’s ranks under Corbyn.

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